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D.C. divorced from reality

No issue better highlights the massive divide between the Washington political establishment and Main Street than Social Security.

It’s become an article of faith among the D.C. political elite that “something” must be done about the program to ensure its long-term viability. This hysteria is bizarre, given that the latest Social Security trustees report stated that the program has a $2.6 trillion surplus and will remain fully solvent until at least 2037. Moreover, the fund requires only a slight increase in revenue to ensure long-term viability. 

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Given the dramatic problems facing the country today — massive unemployment, for example — Social Security shouldn’t even be on the radar.

A poll by Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos this last weekend starkly shows the vast gulf between the D.C. elites and regular Americans on the matter. Poll respondents were asked, “Currently, workers pay social security payroll taxes on up to $106,800 of their salary. To ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, would you rather have people pay Social Security taxes on salaries above $106,800, or would you rather see benefits cut and the retirement age increased to age 69?” The results show exactly the kind of bipartisan consensus the D.C. punditry claims to embrace.

Among all respondents, 77 percent opted for raising the cap on payroll taxes, while a 10-percent fringe wanted to cut benefits. Opposition to benefits cuts was universal. Just 17 percent of Republicans opted for cutting benefits, along with 11 percent of independents and 4 percent of Democrats. Young voters had (literally) zero appetite for benefits cuts. And even among those most affected — those making more than $100,000 per year —72 percent opted for raising the cap on payroll taxes, with just 18 percent preferring benefits cuts.

Tea Party supporters exhibited the strongest support for cutting benefits, but even then, their austerity crowd numbered just 20 percent — a fringe within the fringe. 

Yet, rather than embrace this rare instance of national consensus around the most popular and successful government program of all time, the D.C. glitterati continue to plot ways to undermine it. 

“Many Democrats and Republicans say they are open to major changes to Social Security and Medicare, possibly including raising the retirement age,” The Washington Post told readers Sunday. 

Why the desperation to “fix” a program that is solvent for at least another 26 years? Conservatives have always hated Social Security, so they’re latching on to the nation’s fiscal problems to gin up a rationale for destruction, claiming any deficit solution must include changes to Social Security — a non-sequitur, given that Social Security doesn’t contribute a dime to the deficit and is forbidden by law from borrowing from the general budget. There is nothing deficit hawks can do with Social Security that would have any impact on the deficit.

But Republicans aren’t about to let the facts get in the way of their anti-Social Security crusade. Sen. Lindsey Graham even vowed to default America’s debt in order to undermine Social Security: “I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see  . . . a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits,” he said on “Meet the Press” a few weeks ago. 

If there’s an Exhibit A on how divorced D.C. is from the realities of everyday America, this is it. The only question now is whether Democrats and the Obama administration want to follow congressional Republicans off the ledge.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos.